The dunes of Sossusvlei are between 5 and 80 million years old. Consisting mainly of quartz, feldspar, mica and magnetite, they owe their reddish hue to deposits of iron oxide, which has rusted over the centuries.
About 85 million years ago, tectonic shift caused the Naukluft Mountains to rise out of Gondwanaland, disrupting the salty lakes at its feet. These later dried up to form the salt pans of the Sossusvlei, exposing the terrain to severe wind erosion.
Over millions of years, persistent winds have carried sediment from the Orange/Vaal River Basin northwards, depositing them in these dry spots to form what is now known as the Namib Sand Sea.
Within the Namib-Naukluft, the only accommodation options are camping under the stars in a rustic setting. The campsites include access to ablutions, braai areas and kitchen facilities but are strictly self-catering.
Staying on the borders of the park is another experience all together, here you will find Sossusvlei accommodation ranging from ultra-luxurious hotels to affordable chalets all within easy reach of the attractions on self-drive or guided trips.
Many of these establishments provide inspiring activities to lure children from their tech-orientated amusements into the great outdoors. Swimming pools and playgrounds along with cultural visits and hiking activities are some of the biggest attractions for youngsters.
Group bookings and conferences are catered for at most of the lodges and resorts surrounding the Sossusvlei which are well-equipped to accommodate large numbers in excellent style.
The best way to explore the Sossusvlei is in the hands of a capable guide who will fill you in on the history and natural intricacies of the area.
Tours are offered to Sesriem, all around the dunes and pans, and up the dunes. There are also fascinating outings centred on tracking down the unique fauna and flora of the area.
Self-drive is also an option and there are many walking opportunities within the park.
The more adventurous can try their hand at quad biking or take a hot air balloon trip at sunrise for an amazing outlook on this barren environment, followed by breakfast among the sands.
Some of the top attractions in this area include:
Sesriem Canyon is found just before you enter the Namib-Naukluft National Park about 4.5 km from the gate. Take a guided tour among the interesting rock formations found here and learn about how it got its unusual name, meaning ‘six straps’.
The canyon holds water throughout the year. This was accessed by early trekkers to the area by lowering a bucket attached to leather straps into its depths. Six of these ‘riems’ tied together were needed to reach the liquid bounty below.
The Dunes of Sossusvlei
- Dune 45
At 85 metres high, Dune 45 is one of the largest in the area, with views over the Dune Valley from its summit. The best time to visit Dune 45 is early in the morning to catch the last rays of sunshine reflecting off the salty reflective surfaces of the vlei. Alternatively, climb up just before closing time to catch the beginning of sunset while sipping on something refreshing. It’s photographic nirvana.
- Big Daddy
Big by name and immense in stature, Big Daddy towers 325m above its peers. Trek up to the top for panoramic views over Deadvlei in the distance. Take your time to catch your breath and admire the scenes on the way up, climbing the Sossusvlei’s tallest dune is no mean feat.
Sossusvlei is accessed on foot from the parking area just past Dune 45. This entire area is named after this large pale salt and clay pan surrounded by towering red star-shaped sand dunes.
Here the Tsachaub River is blocked by the dunes, preventing it from flowing to the pan except in times of flood. The resulting barrenness is a photographer’s delight, particularly at sunset and sunrise.
Sossusvlei is one of the world’s most photographed places.
These are the scenes that made Sossusvlei famous – black, fossilised camel thorn trees embedded in a salty white clay bed. These ill-fated trees grew during a time of plenty over 900 years ago when the pan was flooded by the Tsachaub River, only to perish when the waters receded.
The dry climate in the area has prevented them from decomposing, leaving them trapped in time for all eternity. These stark scenes juxtaposed against the surrounding red dunes are the subject matter of some of the world’s most acclaimed photographs.
This isolated place is one of the least visited attractions in the area and a great place to hunt for animal tracks in the undisturbed sand. See if you can figure out the meandering of the Namib Dune Gecko or Namib sand snakes.
These are visible at various locations around Sossusvlei and are easily distinguishable by their solid rock facades, petrified over 1 billion years ago.
A la Carte
You will find much to whet your appetite at the luxury lodges surrounding Sossusvlei or grab a quick bite at the Sossusvlei Oasis.
Visitors to the area simply must visit Solitaire, 83km north of Namib-Naukluft’s Sesriem gate. This ‘town’ consists of little more than a fuel station and a small shop. However, the main attraction is a single cottage surrounded by the rusting relics of vintage vehicles.
This is where people flock from all over the world to enjoy Big Moose’s Apple Strudel at outdoor tables surrounded by the activities of squirrels and squawking weaver birds.
Fauna and Flora
Rainfall in the Sossusvlei is a rarity with about 20mm per year dropping from the skies. Add to that an evaporation rate of up to 3 500mm a year and you end up with a hyper-arid area which only allows the best-adapted lifeforms to survive.
Somehow vegetation manages to grow on the plains between the dunes by harvesting moisture form the Atlantic coastal fog which spreads over the area. Camel thorn trees are the most common plants, growing along underground watercourses. Large yellow Nara Melons with their deep root systems provide sustenance for many desert-dwelling creatures.
Ancient Welwitschia plants are also found here, although they are most numerous in the northern reaches of Namib-Naukluft.
Toktokkie beetles are one of the animals that have also learnt to make the most of this limited moisture. By standing on their heads condensation accumulates on their abdomens which then runs down into their mouths.
Most animals such as gerbils have become nocturnal to avoid the harsh sunlight and the Namib Dune Ant is capable of withstanding extreme high temperatures by keeping its body elevated off the ground on long spindly legs.
Likewise, the cartwheeling spider rolls along to avoid being scorched, while the Namib Dune Gecko tiptoes among the hot sands.
Other desert-adapted animals that you may spot here are the Gemsbok, ostrich and springbok. As night time approaches, Cape Foxes, bat-eared foxes, black-backed jackal and porcupine start to emerge from their daytime hideaways.
The most notable birds found in this area include Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rueppell’s Bustard, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, Dune Lark, Kopje Warbler, and Karoo Thrush.
Drinking water is an essential item for travel to the Sossusvlei along with sun protection, good walking shoes, binoculars and a camera to snap up all the amazing things you will see. Don’t forget somewhere to save all your photographs, such as a memory card or laptop (with charger) – you’ll need it.
Sossusvlei is easily accessible from Windhoek along the B1 and D854 to Sesriem Gate and from Swakopmund via the C14.
Once you are inside the park, there is a 65km tar road which encompasses all the main sites. The last 5km of this road is gravel but shuttles are available to transport visitors who do not have a 4×4 vehicle.
Charter flights operate from Eros Airport in Namibia to one of the surrounding airstrips at Sossusvlei Lodge, Sesriem, Geluk Kuala Lodge or Sossusvlei Moun Airport.
Transfers are available through private companies from Windhoek or any of the above airstrips to your accommodation in Sossusvlei.
If you’re planning to visit South Namibia, Sossusvlei should be at the top of your “must-see list”. Click here to see what accommodation option is available nearby.
For more information or to book your trip to Sossusvlei in Namibia, pop Namibia Travel Guide a message via our contact us page, and we will gladly assist you.
Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.